Book Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

From Goodreads:

Around the world, black hand prints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grows dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real, she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”, she speaks many languages – not all of them human – and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When beautiful, haunted Akiva fixes fiery eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

I have a strange relationship with young adult novels. I really liked Magonia when a lot of other people didn’t, for example. In this particular case, I did not like Daughter of Smoke and Bone quite as much as the Goodreads consensus does. I really, truly was hoping to love it, as it was our book club pick this month. Star-crossed lovers, you say? I enjoyed that trope in These Broken Stars. Angels and demons are fun, too. But other than the world building, it just didn’t click with me in the way other books have. Perhaps it was because the main character’s personality seemed typical for the genre? Maybe it was the instant love between Akiva and Karou. Maybe it was the predictable plot. In any case, I just did not fall in love with Taylor’s story.

Let me start with what I did enjoy. This story was not what I expected it to be from the blurb on the back. The angels and demons are not what they first seem, and I quite liked that! I loved the descriptions of the various chimaera, of their different aspects, of their cultural myths and legends. While war between a slave race and a dominant race is nothing new, Taylor does manage to create an interesting conflict that will be quite the driving force in the later novels, I can only assume. Additionally, the use of teeth for wishes was grotesque and super cool at the same time, as is what the teeth are actually used for within the story.

However, as for the characters, I enjoyed the secondary characters over the main cast. Zuzana, Brimstone, Issa, even Razgut… I felt that they were all so much more more realistic than Akiva and Karou are. Karou reminded me of that comic describing young adult main characters being good at everything and a vampire to boot. (Of course, she isn’t a vampire, but I digress.) She’s talented at drawing, combat, has chimaera for a family… She’s as special as it gets. While it didn’t make me dislike her, it still felt too unbelievable even given the explanation. I think it may be because I prefer to see that growth during the course of the novel, rather than being given a character that’s already good at everything. Her only downsides seemed to be that she felt empty and acted as expected for her age, and I suppose that would be what teens would relate to and is, of course, understandable. Even so, I feel like more flaws or weaknesses would make her feel more “human”.

As for the romance… It was instant and frustrating, and the part that really made me want to put this novel down. While I thought it was definitely cute at times, there needed to be more development, even with the excuse given later on as to why they are so drawn to each other. There was just too much, too fast to begin to be believable, especially with the circumstances in which they first meet in the story. The romance fires sparks within a day, and I find that rather ridiculous. Instant lust, sure. That would make sense. Since it is termed as love in the story, however, I can’t help but shake my head.

With all of the above, as well as a jarring story structure (see: last fourth of the book switching gears dramatically), I can’t give this novel more than three stars. While I am curious to read the other two books in the series because of how the book ends, I am hesitant. I don’t really ship the romance as hard as I would like to, and the story really just isn’t gripping me the way it should to read it all. In one word, it was unbelievable. And that’s a weird word to use for a fantasy novel.

Book Review: Magonia


From Goodreads:

Aza Ray is drowning in thin air.

Since she was a baby, Aza has suffered from a mysterious lung disease that makes it ever harder for her to breathe, to speak—to live.

So when Aza catches a glimpse of a ship in the sky, her family chalks it up to a cruel side effect of her medication. But Aza doesn’t think this is a hallucination. She can hear someone on the ship calling her name.

Only her best friend, Jason, listens. Jason, who’s always been there. Jason, for whom she might have more-than-friendly feelings. But before Aza can consider that thrilling idea, something goes terribly wrong. Aza is lost to our world—and found, by another. Magonia.

Above the clouds, in a land of trading ships, Aza is not the weak and dying thing she was. In Magonia, she can breathe for the first time. Better, she has immense power—and as she navigates her new life, she discovers that war is coming. Magonia and Earth are on the cusp of a reckoning. And in Aza’s hands lies the fate of the whole of humanity—including the boy who loves her. Where do her loyalties lie?

I honestly was not sure if I would like this book in the beginning. It begins with stream of consciousness writing, with a slice of life focus. While fascinating and beautifully written in its own right, I could not help but feel that Aza Ray was a special snowflake. Nerdier than the rest of the class? Check. Only one friend who understands her, and is just as nerdy? Check. Nerdiness is almost to the point of being beyond belief? Check. A mysterious illness that not even doctors understand? Needless to say, I had a hard time initially with the novel. However, as I continued reading, these facets added to the fantastic and dream-like atmosphere of the story. While we see a typical YA heroine with special powers and coming to terms with her destiny, the world building and mythos make up for these tropes and others throughout the story.

Maybe I have not read enough, but I have never read something quite like this novel. Ships in the sky? Sure, I’ve seen that plenty of times. Birds that roost in your lungs to amplify your singing voice, however? That as well as plenty of other facets, from the Magonian race to the Rostrae, were unique and refreshing. I fell in love with this world, even if there were plot holes abound and a lack of believable characters.

Even if they were unbelievable, however, I still could not help but empathize with them all. They all had clear goals, clear motivations, and were never black and white. It was also nice to see Aza and Jason’s parents play such a strong role in the story as well. I could not help but root for everyone, cry with them, and laugh with them, especially with how strong the audiobook performance was. Even once I had to turn in the audiobook and read the physical book, their voices stayed with me.

Although there was a romance triangle, it made sense within the context of the novel and did not bother me as much as they normally tend to do. Jason and Aza together, in particular, were adorable, and I could not get enough of them. From the alligator costume in their beginning years to watching giant squid together, the entire time I wanted to both hug them and push them together at every moment.

Factoring in the improbable characters and plot holes (seriously, Jason, using the dark web as an excuse for all the shenanigans you manage to get up to??), I give this novel four out of five stars for wonderful world building, emotional and poetic writing, and for making me cry on the bus home of all places. I will definitely be giving the second book a try, as Aza Ray’s story will stick with me for a long time.  Thank you, Maria Dahvana Headley, for writing such a poignant and amazing novel.

Visual Novel Review: Planetarian: The Reverie of a Little Planet


From Steam:

It is thirty years after the failure of the Space Colonization Program.
Humanity is nearly extinct. A perpetual and deadly Rain falls on the Earth.
Men known as “Junkers” plunder goods and artifacts from the ruins of civilization.
One such Junker sneaks alone into the most dangerous of all ruins — a “Sarcophagus City”.
In the center of this dead city, he discovers a pre-War planetarium.
And as he enters he is greeted by Hoshino Yumemi, a companion robot.
Without a single shred of doubt, she assumes he is the first customer she’s had in 30 years.
She attempts to show him the stars at once, but the planetarium projector is broken.
Unable to make heads or tails of her conversation, he ends up agreeing to try and repair the projector …

For those unfamiliar with visual novels, and kinetic novels in particular, before I get into Planetarian’s review I will give a short explanation. Visual novels essentially are compromised of text, visuals, and music. Often there are choices to be made that will feed you into alternate endings and paths, making the experience one that is worth repeating, such as a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. The amount of interaction can range from a “kinetic novel”, which has no choices, to “adventure games”, which contain more gameplay elements. While there are many that have been written in Japan, the amount that have been translated into English officially is much smaller, though growing. There are also many fan translation patches that you can get if you have Japanese copies of certain games, so that is an option that exists.

To warn you, however, many have eroge content, meaning that there often is 18+ scenes added in, which I will warn you about if I review one of that nature. Additionally, I will let you know if there is an official English version available or if I played a patched in fan translation.

Planetarian: The Reverie of a Little Planet is an all-ages kinetic novel developed by Key that was originally released in 2004, and has been released in English on Steam. The story follows a Junker who scavenges a post-apocalyptic world for anything useful he can find. The unnamed protagonist, on one of his excursions to a sarcophagus city, finds himself in a planetarium with a female android named Hoshino Yumemi that has been waiting for customers for thirty years. Much of the plot centers around this planetarium and its sole occupant, who is unaware of the nuclear and biological warfare that encompassed the planet a generation prior.

First of all, this visual novel broke my heart. I can’t really get into why without spoiling the whole story, but do go in knowing that you’ll probably cry. I knew this beforehand from the Steam reviews, and still I was a sniveling wreck.  This means that the novel is easy to connect to and empathize with the characters, which is great in the four hours it takes to play the game.

Over the course of the story, there are only two characters that are presented, and in the setting, that is honestly just enough. Seeing the interactions between the Junker and Yumemi is heartwarming and simultaneously heartbreaking, as the Junker’s cynicism and Yumemi’s optimism often clash. Yumemi believes that customers will eventually come back to the planetarium, while the Junker time and time again tries to explain that there is nothing left. It is a contrast between the optimistic belief in humans and the reality that humanity has wrought onto itself.

The aspect I loved the most about this story is the focus on the stars. With the Rain pummeling down on the world constantly, the sky has long been obscured from view. The stars represent hope and belief in humanity’s possibility to heal.

While relatively short and predictable in many aspects, the novel packs a punch. There’s just enough exposition to color the story in the beginning, discussions on humanity’s path to the stars, and character growth from both parties.  Even the Junker’s harsh manner becomes manageable by the end.  The artwork, while relatively simple in comparison to modern day visual novels, is still just enough to paint an accompanying picture to the text. The music, particularly “Gentle Jena”, does a fantastic job at tugging at the heartstrings and making one want to look to the night sky.

Overall, I give this visual novel four out of five twinkling stars in the sky, mainly because it is rather predictable. Even so, I feel like it will stay with me for a long time, and I look forward to trying the anime adaptation soon.




Comic Review: Descender, Vol 1: Tin Stars


From Goodreads:

Young Robot boy TIM-21 and his companions struggle to stay alive in a universe where all androids have been outlawed and bounty hunters lurk on every planet. Written by award-winning creator, Jeff Lemire, Descender is a rip-roaring and heart-felt cosmic odyssey. Lemire pits humanity against machine, and world against world, to create a sprawling epic. Created by Jeff Lemire (Sweet Tooth, Trillium) and Dustin Nguyen’s (Little Gotham) critically acclaimed, bestselling new science fiction series!

Collecting: Descender 1-6

Okay, it is time to reel in my flailing before beginning, this graphic novel was that good.  I honestly have not read something this amazing in quite a long time, and it was wonderful for a comic to just “click” with me so well.  Descender is fantastic sci-fi rendered in a beautiful watercolor setting that was incredibly unique and refreshing.  Alien worlds emblazoned in rich shades, so unfamiliar and otherworldly, fit with the flow of the story well enough that any doubts I may have had from the deviation from normal comic book art were blown out of the water.

The story follows TIM-21, a companion android for children that wakes up years after an attack from massive robots known as the Harvesters.  Alone and afraid on a desolate mining planet far from populated reaches of the galaxy, different factions vie for retrieving him due to his importance in identifying the origin of the murderous machines that killed millions upon millions.  Those groups, such as the UGC, Grishians, and the like, all have their own clear motives and were each fascinating in their own right.  I cannot wait to learn more about each of them as this comic progresses!

The grayness of each character was another favorite part of this work for me.  No one was strictly good or evil, which in comics feels great as there is so often a clear good guy and bad guy, especially in the superhero genre.  From the “father of modern robotics” to those who want to destroy all robots in existence, they all have solid reasoning for their actions and their own light and dark sides.  This becomes clearer as the comic progresses.  All we can root for is poor TIM-21, who just wants to see his family again.  And, of course, Driller, because Driller is the best and there is no argument that’ll make me believe otherwise.

Finally, the theme of the humanity of robots is always a wonderful one to visit, and this comic has this in spades.  TIM-21 is programmed with emotions to facilitate his job as a companion robot, and the robots shown throughout the story feel much more human than their modern-day counterparts.  Yet, they are being massacred due to the robot attack that so many planets endured.  The parallels to genocide are not easily missed, and the easiest characters to empathize with are the machines.

Overall, I cannot wait to read the second and third trade paperbacks that are currently out and will likely review those as well!  (We may have already bought them, I was so excited.)  Descender deserves all five stars, as Jeff Lemire has created a beautiful world and characters I can get behind.  This is probably my favorite sci-fi comic outside of Saga, which is a high honor!



Comic Review: The Beauty


From Goodreads:

Modern society is obsessed with outward beauty. What if there was a way to guarantee you could become more and more beautiful every day? What if it was a sexually transmitted disease?

In the world of The Beauty, physical perfection is only one sexual encounter away. The vast majority of the population has taken advantage of it, but Detectives Vaughn and Foster will soon discover it comes at a terrible cost. Now, they’ll have to find their way past corrupt politicians, vengeful federal agents, and a terrifying mercenary out to collect the price on their heads.

Collects the first six issues of the critically acclaimed, Pilot Season winning series by writer/artist JEREMY HAUN (Constantine, Batwoman) and co-writer JASON A. HURLEY.

To begin, please be aware that this graphic novel contains mature content and is rated M accordingly.  Nudity, strong violence, vulgarity, and the like are gratuitously used.  You have been warned.

Image Comics is my favorite publisher in the comic book industry, outside of Dark Horse and the like, so picking this horror trade up was a no-brainer for me.  With such a fascinating premise as an STD that causes you to become beautiful, I could not say no.

That being said, even though I enjoyed the first six issues of the comic overall, I felt there was something lacking.  I wanted more scientific explanation for the disease, more character development, just… more from this.  It was very plot driven, and while we get bits and pieces of character backstory, other characters we get little to nothing about.  This can be attributed to the medium itself, of course, but with the issues following this apparently following a different set of characters, I was really disappointed in that aspect.  If you cannot remember the character’s names without referencing the material itself immediately after reading, there is a problem with the amount of impact they are leaving on you.  And with how comically bad the villain was for the general atmosphere of the story, mask and all, I was a bit let down, to be completely honest.

While the overall story was predictable and easy to follow, there tended to be a lot of holes as well.  (HOW DID THEY FIND THAT PERSON?  HOW DID THEY DO THIS AND THAT?  HOW???)  Even so, I really did enjoy the general concept and where the authors took it.  The themes of governmental cover up and pharmaceutical control of the population always tend to grab my interest, and following the detectives as you see the full picture with them is wonderfully intense.  The horror aspects are well done, and the gruesomeness of the work can be felt in both the text and the accompanying images.  The end of the sixth issue is satisfying and, to be honest, the comic could end there and I would be happy.  No cliffhangers, a nice solid open ending.  I honestly do not know what they could do with subsequent issues, it felt complete enough.

Something that pleasantly surprised me was the LGBT inclusion within the story.  Both one of the anti-Beauty activists as well as the CDC director are stated/shown to be in same-sex relationships, the latter with a family of her own.  It was done so naturally and seamlessly, did not feel tokenized, and is a breath of fresh air, honestly.

This story is quick and relentless, and I give The Beauty a solid three stars.  If you are looking for a quick horror comic read, I would definitely recommend trying it if you are there for the story itself and not the characters.  Characters are easily disposable enough in horror anyway, right?  Haha.

Book Review: Mistborn: The Final Empire

Mistborn_MMPB2 Mistborn_Simonetti

From Goodreads:

In a world where ash falls from the sky, and mist dominates the night, an evil cloaks the land and stifles all life. The future of the empire rests on the shoulders of a troublemaker and his young apprentice. Together, can they fill the world with color once more?

In Brandon Sanderson’s intriguing tale of love, loss, despair and hope, a new kind of magic enters the stage – Allomancy, a magic of the metals.

Note: The complete title of the book is Mistborn: The Final Empire, but TFE is something of a subtitle, and the vast majority call it Mistborn, which is the only title printed on some editions of the book. I follow that convention in this review.

Second Note: I included the Brazillian cover above as well because of the utterly amazing artwork by Marc Simonetti. It’s my favorite cover, though I don’t have a copy of it–yet.

Mistborn was the first Sanderson book I picked up, after hearing that he would be finishing The Wheel of Time, which, at that time, was my favorite fantasy series. I was wondering who this kid was, and if he was really any good at all. Needless to say, this means that I went into Mistborn with very high standards, standards that I was fairly sure wouldn’t be met.

They were.

I don’t think I’ve read a book that has exceeded my expectations by this much since—every new Sanderson I read continues to blow me away, but I already have the highest expectations of those books, and I have decently high expectations of everything else I read too. Perhaps one or two debut novels—The Emperor’s Blades, for instance—have met this mark, but even that is debatable.

But what makes Mistborn so great? Well, what doesn’t?

Sanderson has brought his signature magic system creation to the table, giving us Allomancy, a skill, generally thought to be genetically passed on, which grants the user the ability to ingest and burn certain metals to temporarily gain magical powers. It’s really interesting, as per Sanderson’s second law of magic, because of its limitations: You can only burn as much metal as you have in you, some metals are incredibly rare, and some metals burn much more quickly than others.

Paired with the Allomancy is the world of Scadrial, another brilliant creation. Covered in giant volcanoes (ashmounts), which belch ash into the atmosphere, staining everything with soot and requiring a huge workforce to keep the cities clean, Scadrial is also subject to nightly mists, which cover the entire planet. These mists are the domain of the Allomancers, which gives them—and the book—the name of Mistborn. It’s an incredibly evocative image of a planet, and one that I loved reading about.

And he’s filled the planet with incredibly interesting people. The skaa, the slave class, have been oppressed for centuries, and forbidden from mating with the non-skaa, for fear that Allomantic powers might leak through. But, of course, this restriction hasn’t really worked out all that well for the Lord Ruler, the, uh, ruler of The Final Empire, and there are some among the skaa with magical powers.

But, of course, the world is nothing, the the story is nothing, without interesting characters. And Sanderson has created a cast of them.

There’s Kelsier, a skaa, and yet, somehow, a full Allomancer, with power over all of the metals. He’s survived an incredibly tragic and harsh past, yet he always manages to smile in the face of danger and despair. He wants revenge upon the Lord Ruler, and he is assembling a crew to help him get it. He and his crew are an utterly awesome band with a really cool dynamic—some of my favorite chapters in the book are the planning chapters, where the whole group is in one room, simply talking.

The main character, Vin, is a street urchin skaa who is trying to survive as part of a thieving crew. But when the crew’s latest hit goes awry, she’s in mortal danger—until Kelsier decides to recruit her. Vin’s growth through the story, as she slowly gains the ability to trust others, and her sheer resilience to whatever life throws at her make her an instant favorite, and she is a truly kick-ass heroine.

Elend Venture is the man I would wish to be if I were living on Scadrial. Born to the nobility, he’s not satisfied with the government, and in an empire where such meetings are declared treasonous by the all-power Lord Ruler, he has a close selection of friends who plot ways to better the government—even if it means going against the Lord Ruler’s orders, or overthrowing parts of his system. He also has an incredible love of books, and an utterly disarming attitude that I absolutely love.

The villains, Lord Venture, the Inquisitors, the Lord-Ruler… They are all utterly terrifying, and Sanderson has done them all brilliantly. In a world where GRRM-like books are becoming more and more common, it’s nice to have some villains I can just straight up hate, and some heroes I can cheer for.

Although, as Kelsier says, “There’s always another secret.”

In summary, Mistborn is the brilliant beginning to one of my favorite trilogies of all time, with an utterly unique Sanderson magic system, a dark, ash-covered world, a spunky, yet flawed heroine, and a cool team of thieves who want to pull of the heist of the millennium, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Five of Five stars, and if you’ve not read this book yet, I may have to disown you.

Brandon Sanderson’s Website.



Book Review: Vicious


Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong. Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end?

In Vicious, V. E. Schwab brings to life a gritty comic-book-style world in vivid prose: a world where gaining superpowers doesn’t automatically lead to heroism, and a time when allegiances are called into question.’

Vicious is a book I honestly hadn’t heard a lot about before I met the book blogger community. I know that at one point, I saw the cover and summary on, and I probably spotted it a few times while at the bookstore. But I never really had a strong urge to pick it up. I’m not entirely sure why—maybe it was the fact that the setting was neither high fantasy nor sci-fi. Maybe it was because the cover isn’t to my tastes (I know lots of people love it. It’s just not for me.). I’m not sure. Regardless, it took me a while to get around to really wanting to read this book.

But as soon as I met some of my book blogger friends, they started pushing this book on me. Relentlessly. It’s something we do, something we enjoy, and, I’ve found, something we (I think of myself as part of the community now, whether I really am or not.) are quite good at. Vicious was one of the books most heavily pushed on me. The main culprits were Nikki, Angie, and Jessie, but there were plenty more of them. Finally, I broke down and asked for the book for my birthday, received it, and I made it my first read of 2015.

And I’m glad I did. I tore through the book in only a few days and utterly loved it. I’m rather annoyed at myself for not picking it up earlier, and if you’re just hearing about it now, don’t make the mistake I did. Get it immediately, and go read it. NOW.

Oh, alright. I’ll write the rest of the review. But my opinion isn’t going to change.

Vicious is the story of two college boys, Victor and Eli, their relationship as roommates, and an experiment gone horribly wrong. It’s a chilling, disturbing tale that is utterly gripping, and simultaneously horrifying and amazing. I really enjoyed reading it.

Setting is incredibly important to any novel, and while I may have initially been reluctant to pick up this novel because it’s not a setting I’m familiar with, the college atmosphere was perfectly done. I’m a college student, and I read this book while on break. It gave me shivers purely from the accuracy of the descriptions and their clarity. And while the college is not the entirety of the setting, it plays a large part, and the rest is equally well done. It’s not a new world, built from the ground up, but that doesn’t make it any less perfect. It’s the setting this story demanded, and it was handed with amazing skill.

The structure is handled in a way I’ve never seen before. Every chapter happens at a different place in time, and it’s not even remotely linear. The chapters jump from the present, to ten years ago at the university, to the weeks leading up to the main events of the novel. This main thread of events, which happens over a period of a day and a half, from the first chapter to the last (excluding the epilogue), focuses on Victor and Eli’s impending first meeting in a 10 years. While this structure had the opportunity to be incredibly confusing, Schwab has instead crafted a narrative that is unbelievably tense and gripping. It demands that you keep reading, and it’s always ratcheting up the tension until the final scenes, at which point everything comes together with an incredible bang. It’s so well crafted, and it makes me wish other authors would use unconventional structures more often, though I doubt many have the skill to reproduce the magic that Schwab wrought here.

But even the best setting and plot fall flat without good characters. I’m happy to report that Schwab’s cast, kept elegantly small, is filled with utterly fascinating characters with fascinating quirks—and abilities. Victor’s past, his problems with his family, and the way he treats those around him paint him as an incredibly engaging, complex character. And while he’s not someone I would ever want to hug—or even be close to—I feel like I understand him. As I do with the other main characters, Eli, Sydney, and Serena. Eli, in particular, I loved to hate as a villain. I’m going to put that down to Schawb’s writing skills and not the fact that I know someone IRL with the name Eliot whom I particularly dislike.

In summary, this book has it all. Utterly realistic setting, amazing plot with a cool structure, and utterly enthralling, complex, creepy characters. I’m telling you without reserve to go pick this book up and read it, right now. Five of five stars, and a place on my lifetime favorites shelf without a doubt.

*returns to stalking his mailbox for his copy of A Darker Shade of Magic*

V.E. Schwab’s website.

Vicious on Goodreads.

Vicious on Amazon.

ARC Review: The Autumn Republic



From Goodreads:

The capital has fallen…
Field Marshal Tamas returns to his beloved country to find that for the first time in history, the capital city of Adro lies in the hands of a foreign invader. His son is missing, his allies are indistinguishable from his foes, and reinforcements are several weeks away.

An army divided…
With the Kez still bearing down upon them and without clear leadership, the Adran army has turned against itself. Inspector Adamat is drawn into the very heart of this new mutiny with promises of finding his kidnapped son.

All hope rests with one…
And Taniel Two-shot, hunted by men he once thought his friends, must safeguard the only chance Adro has of getting through this war without being destroyed…

Disclaimer: I received an e-copy of this book for free from Brian. This has in no way affected my review.

Brian McClellan is one of those authors who has managed, so far, to get better with every book. He also writes at near Sandersonian levels of speed, not only producing a large novel every year, but many side projects, including multiple novellas, short stories, and even another (unpublished) novel in the mean-time, while still managing to keep up the quality of everything. But this review isn’t about the novellas, though I certainly talk about them at some point. Rather, I’m here to talk about his latest novel.

Promise of Blood was a good, fun ride. It didn’t utterly blow me away, and there were some minor problems throughout that kept me from being fully engaged. The Crimson Campaign improved on Promise of Blood in many ways, delivering a rousing, brilliant ride with the characters McClellan had introduced us to in the first book.

The Autumn Republic, the final volume in the first power mage trilogy, is somehow even better, perhaps because it manages to capture all of the magic of The Crimson Campaign while adding the inevitable adrenaline rush and satisfaction of tying up so many plot threads at once.

The characters continue to grow more engaging—especially Nila, whose powers were revealed at the end of The Crimson Campaign. It was refreshing to see her get a larger role in the story, and it also gave some very interesting insights into the life of a privileged, where the rest of the story has been told almost completely from the view of the powder mages. I like her, and was glad to see these viewpoints, as it also helps with the gender balance of the viewpoints, something previously held up almost solely by Vlora.

The war worsens, and we are able to witness first-hand some large, deadly, horrific battles. In particular, for the first time, we get to see Adamat’s perspective on the battles, rather than simply his detective work and one-on-one fights, and I felt sorry for him more than any other character in the novel. He’s very well written here, and I hope we get more Sherlock Holmes style novellas from his viewpoint, novellas like Murder at the Kinnen Hotel.

Tamas and Taniel and their various friends continue to kick some serious butt as powder mages, and watching them fight is always a pleasure.

The plot itself is perhaps the most engaging part of the novel, and not only because it happens to such engaging characters. McClellan manages to ratchet up the tension on almost every page. I read this book as an electronic version on my phone, something I almost never do. I love the feel of a solid physical book in my hand too much, my phone screen is much too small, I get too distracted by the internet, and the light prevents me from going to sleep quite as quickly after reading in the evenings. Despite all of these things, I tore through The Autumn Republic in record time, finishing it in 3 days total, during an intense period of the semester, simply because I could not put it down—I was always picking my phone up to read one more page, one more section, one more chapter. And then another. Many epic fantasy authors—GRRM, Sanderson, Rothfuss—will give you permission to set the book down between chapters to relax and process what has happened. But like Staveley or Weeks, McClellan demands that you keep reading, and several hundred pages feels like only a few dozen by the time you’re done—and wonder how many hours ago the sun went down.

While it is clear that The Autumn Republic is the final volume in the trilogy, wrapping up all of the large plot threads and many of the minor ones as well from the first two books, it is by no means the end for the universe. The ending is bittersweet and powerful, and none of your favorite characters may be safe. It ties up everything that is truly important, while leaving some questions hanging and giving meaning to the fact that the story doesn’t end when the book does—and neither does it begin on the first page. The ongoing story leaves plenty of room for the next trilogy, which McClellan has, excitingly, already started writing.

In summary, The Autumn Republic is a fitting, bittersweet end to a brilliant trilogy that got better with every book, making some of my favorite characters even more important and expanding the conflict to truly terrifying levels and finally, after hundreds of gripping pages, tied up many threads, leaving me satisfied, yet already drooling for the beginning of the next trilogy in the powder mage universe. Five of five unabashed stars, and if you’ve read the first two, get it now. If you haven’t, why are you here? Go pick up Promise of Blood today and get yourself started—you can come back and thank me when you’re done.

Brian’s Website.



ARC Review: Gemini Cell


From Goodreads:

Gemini Cell takes place in the SHADOW OPS universe, but is a prequel, taking place many years before the events in CONTROL POINT.

Myke Cole continues to blow the military fantasy genre wide open with an all-new epic adventure in his highly acclaimed Shadow Ops universe—set in the early days of the Great Reawakening, when magic first returns to the world and order begins to unravel…

US Navy SEAL Jim Schweitzer is a consummate professional, a fierce warrior, and a hard man to kill. But when he sees something he was never meant to see on a covert mission gone bad, he finds himself—and his family—in the crosshairs. Nothing means more to Jim than protecting his loved ones, but when the enemy brings the battle to his front door, he is overwhelmed and taken down.

It should be the end of the story. But Jim is raised from the dead by a sorcerer and recruited by a top secret unit dabbling in the occult, known only as the Gemini Cell. With powers he doesn’t understand, Jim is called back to duty—as the ultimate warrior. As he wrestles with a literal inner demon, Jim realizes his new superiors are determined to use him for their own ends and keep him in the dark—especially about the fates of his wife and son…

Myke Cole presents his online persona as a completely serious, anti-fun person. He also presents himself as a very morally straight man. He’s a member of the Coast Guard (I think), and is always seen haranguing people about the importance of trigger discipline. This may have affected my expectations for his books, giving me the perception that Gemini Cell would be a straightforward military by the numbers novel, even though I had already read the first of his Shadow Ops books, Control Point, and knew it was not like that.

He happily disabused me of this notion within the first handful of pages of Gemini Cell, which starts with a bang. Several bangs, in fact, and characters who make very questionable decisions, characters who are not, in any way, perfect ideals. When I picked up the book, I wasn’t able to stop until probably 60-70 pages in, more than I had anticipated being able to read. It was a pleasant surprise, and the rest of the book was just as gripping, not giving me a single boring moment to complain about.

The magic system here is very interesting. Myke has shown us the same world before, in the Shadow Ops series. Given that the Shadow Ops series is set after Gemini Cell, this could easily have turned out to be nothing more than a money-grab prequel… But it is much more than that. It gives us a glimpse of magic that is utterly different than that in the Shadow Ops series, and takes us on a journey with a completely different set of characters. The magic, a form of necromancy, gives Jim not only incredible powers that are amazing to read, but also a very interesting internal battle, for the spirit that inhabits his body is constantly fighting him for control of it. It provides an interesting dual perspective, internal and external, and asks more questions than it answers. Also, since this story is so different from the Shadow Ops series, they can be read in either order, with minimal, if any, spoilers.

Jim’s wife, Sarah, could easily have become an accessory, a side character placed in the story solely to give Jim a mental anchor and provide conflict. But she isn’t, and Sarah becomes almost as fully fleshed out and engrossing as Jim himself. Myke did a fantastic job with her, and with the couple’s child, Patrick. Her actions, while some of them are ones you would want to say that you would never do yourself, are understandable given the extreme situations she is placed in.

I should stop here and note that there is a strong content warning on this book. Not only is there bloody, brutal, morally disgusting violence, there is also sex. However, this is not in the book as fanservice, nor is it there simply to make the novel more raunchy and sell copies. It’s there, every time, to advance the plot of the novel and show and shape the characters. It’s one of the few times where I am not complaining about the amount of sex in the book, though generally I find even once to be excessive.

Perhaps my biggest complaint with the novel is Steven’s storyline. Given the things he did, and how his story ended, I am truly not sure why we had the viewpoints from him that we did. That is not to say that they were boring; rather, I was expecting them to go somewhere and have an impact and they… didn’t.

If you’re looking for a satisfying, complete story, Gemini Cell is not the book for you. While it has plenty of action and a very intense, game-changing ending, it is unabashedly the first part of a much larger story, one that I will be continuing to enjoy as soon as I can get my hands on a copy of Javelin Rain, which Myke is currently in the process of editing. I would suggest reading the Shadow Ops series instead, as it is a completed trilogy, though I have not personally finished them. I read the first book, Control Point and enjoyed it, and I own the entire trilogy. I have bumped them up considerably on my TBR after reading Gemini Cell.

The ending of Gemini Cell will surprise you. It may not be a Sanderson-type twist, but I thought through the second half of the novel that I knew who the characters were and where they were going, and I was very wrong. There are several revelations near the end that will leave you clamoring for Javelin Rain, but Gemini Cell is certainly entertaining and powerful enough to be a satisfying read on its own.

In summary, Gemini Cell is an intense, military sci-fi novel with a sex/violence content warning that follows some amazingly nuanced morally grey characters though the re-emergence of magic into the world, and has a gripping, twisty ending that begs for the sequel, which I am glad is already in progress. Five of Five stars, and highly recommended if you can handle the intensity.

My reading progress:

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 1.50.54 PM


Myke’s website

Gemini Cell on Goodreads

Gemini Cell on Amazon

Novella Review: The Emperor’s Soul


From Goodreads:

A heretic thief is the empire’s only hope in this fascinating tale that inhabits the same world as the popular novel, Elantris.

Shai is a Forger, a foreigner who can flawlessly copy and re-create any item by rewriting its history with skillful magic. Condemned to death after trying to steal the emperor’s scepter, she is given one opportunity to save herself. Though her skill as a Forger is considered an abomination by her captors, Shai will attempt to create a new soul for the emperor, who is almost dead.

Probing deeply into his life, she discovers Emperor Ashravan’s truest nature—and the opportunity to exploit it. Her only possible ally is one who is truly loyal to the emperor, but councilor Gaotona must overcome his prejudices to understand that Shai’s forgery is as much artistry as it is deception.

Brandon Sanderson is often known for his longer works—his 350k+ word epic entries into the Wheel of Time series or the Stormlight Archive. But he is a much, much more versatile author than most people typically realize, and has written in various genres and at almost every conceivable length. He has written a few short stories, several novellas, his Alcatraz series of middle grade novels comes in at around 40-50k words, his YA series come in at 100k, his epics at 250k-400k.

In The Emperor’s Soul, one of Sanderson’s entries into the novella category, we are returned to the world of Sel, the world in which the novel Elantris took place. But if you haven’t read Elantris, don’t worry. This novella takes place on a completely separate continent, and there are only a handful of well-hidden clues that they are even set in the same world—but if you’ve read Elantris, you will likely pick up on the hidden easter-eggs that Sanderson has scattered throughout the novella.

The Emperor’s Soul takes place largely in a single room, following Shai’s efforts to, well, rebuild the Emperor’s Soul. In the hands of a lesser author, this could easily have become a boring novella, a philosophical mess of exposition and “deep thoughts” on life. But instead, through Sanderson’s impressive range of talents, we are given something much different. Shai’s voice comes alive in the novella, and she is truly, truly, a marvelous, complex, powerful character. We are somehow given her history and enough information to round out her character and her abilities, while never being bored with info-dumps. I found it very interesting to spend time in Shai’s head, watching her work through and brilliantly conquer the problems set before her.

Yet, perhaps, she is arguably not the only main character of the novella, though the vast majority of it is told through her viewpoint. While we never see him, The Imperial Fool, the one who set off the events that led to Shai being captured, is a character who should be familiar to Sanderson Cosmere buffs. Once you’ve read the novella, you should head over to Sanderson’s website to check out the deleted prologue, in which Shai actually converses with the Fool. It has some interesting tidbits, for sure.

The other most interesting character is definitely Gaotona, an Arbiter of the Empire, one of the men who shall decide Shai’s fate. At first utterly repulsed by the magic that Shai works, Gaotona is forced to watch over her and try to understand the process she is going through, so that he can verify that she is doing what she promised. His journey, though told mostly through Shai’s eyes, is also quite interesting.

The magic that Shai works is another trademark Sanderson system, utterly interesting, and based largely on the stamp system used in Taiwan. In fact, the entire novella has an oriental feel, something refreshingly different from the vaguely European settings that permeate most fantasy works these days. I am curious to see, in future works, how the magic of The Emperor’s Soul fits with the very different magic of Elantris, since they are both set on Sel. Also, there’s a very nice easter-egg relating to the magic system here that you will only catch if you’ve read Elantris.

The Emperor’s Soul won the Hugo award for best novella in 2013, and it undoubtedly deserved the award. Not only is it a fun, quick read (Every time I have read this, it’s been in a single sitting.), with an action-packed ending, but it is also a reflection on what art is, what beauty is, and what really is and is not a lie. It’s also an examination, although obliquely, of what makes up a person’s soul, and makes them who they are. In particular, though he is not really a character of the novella, we get to know Emperor Ashravan through Shai’s efforts to recreate his soul, a decidedly interesting look at things we don’t see very often.

In summary, The Emperor’s Soul is a trademark Sanderson, with a brilliant magic system and utterly intriguing characters, with just enough Cosmere related easter-eggs to keep the rabid fans pleased, while still tending to a more literary direction than many of Sanderson’s works, and is highly deserving of the Hugo Award that it won. Five of Five stars, an read that you really should pick up as soon as you can.

Brandon Sanderson.

The Emperor’s Soul on Amazon.

The Emperor’s Soul on Goodreads.